Reign has been paying close attention to the racial dynamics of the Academy since she founded the #OscarsSoWhite movement in 2015, when an all-white lineup of acting nominees prompted backlash and a major overhaul of the group’s membership. Since then there have been signs of progress—Moonlight’s best picture triumph, Mahershala Ali’s two supporting actor Oscar wins, a long-overdue screenplay statue for Spike Lee. But basic milestones are still being crossed. Just last year, Judas and the Black Messiah became the first best picture nominee with an all-Black producing team.
Daniels, a two-time nominee, still likens the awards to a skewed popularity contest. “Who sets the tone for who’s favorite at the party for the most part are white, male critics, who don’t understand my world,” he says.
Berry remembers thinking after her Oscar win, “Well, this is going to have to change my life now. Now I’m going to have to get more scripts and be taken more seriously.” Reality was more complicated. “I was disappointed when I realized it’s not going to do any of that,” she says. “I won that award, and they didn’t back up the script truck to my door because I won it. I became more famous, more people knew my name, and I think my industry respected me. But my quest to find roles for people who look like me did not become easier.”
Reign, too, has been struck by how little difference awards attention can make. “Having the phrase Oscar nominee or Oscar winner after an actor’s name, or even a behind-the-camera [person], doesn’t open the door for marginalized communities the way we would like it to,” she says. “Yeah, maybe somebody unlocked it, but it’s not open wide for folks to just come in at their will.”
In a 2020 study, the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative found that there was no meaningful increase in Black, Hispanic/Latino, or Asian characters in popular films between 2007 and 2019. “The history of racism in Hollywood is long and unforgivable—excluding Black talent, silencing Black voices, and derailing Black careers,” says Rashad Robinson, president of Color of Change, one of the nation’s largest racial justice organizations. He points to the recent tumult within the Hollywood Foreign Press Association as a prime example: “These folks did not want to go see TV or movies from Black talent or Black creatives.”
Both before and after her Oscar win, Berry has had to be her own advocate: “I still have to go fight and convince people to make a way out of no way, to convince people to put a woman of color in a role that wasn’t written for a woman of color.”
The 2021 Netflix release of Berry’s directorial debut, Bruised, marked a new watershed moment in her career. She also starred in the film, the kind of risk she’s embraced throughout her career, she says, even for Monster’s Ball. “Well, if it ruins my career, at least I’m ending my career on a choice I fully, wholeheartedly believe in,” Berry remembers thinking of the 2001 film. “Playing it safe doesn’t necessarily get you anywhere. You have to take chances. Especially if you’re a Black woman, you have no choice. You have to take chances.”